Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Immigration Law

I should confess a slight personal interest in this rant - my sister and aunt both married Americans. At college, two students have already been forced to leave the country (one of them came back), another one got refused entry, one staff member nearly got refused entry and another student currently has 7 days left to appeal or leave.

British immigration law is stupid.

The Biblical perspective on it is that Jesus was a refugee in Egypt for a bit, thereby massively dignifying the status of refugees, and meaning we should treat them well. In addition, in the Old Testament, Israel's law stresses the importance of treating foreigners who come to live in the land well, as long as they don't do stuff like inciting people to worship false gods or anything.

In fact, that seems like a good model. What's happened in Britain of course is that we've got scared of immigrants as a result of international terrorism and so on, and so have massively tightened up the law, without massively tightening up on enforcement. So now any terrorists wanting to come and live in the UK have to do it illegally rather than legally, which I'm sure will put most of them off because terrorists are good, law-abiding folk.

Although I've heard people annoyed or scared about immigrants from countries such as Pakistan (some of which is fear of terrorism, some of which is racism) and Poland (but they're citizens of an EU country, we can't really keep them out), I haven't heard anyone annoyed or scared about immigrants from countries where the culture and population are essentially descended from Brits.

You don't see scare stories on the news about Australian or American immigrants, whatever their ethnic background. You don't find people being all worried about the Canadians or New Zealanders who just moved in next door.

But the British government, in their infinite wisdom, seem to have managed to make life difficult for the very large number of immigrants from former colonies, who no-one is worried about. And that is the main substance of this rant, because it looks like incompetence rather than partially justified fear.

I don't know exactly what the forms ask or how the system works, but it seems to me sensible on a purely human level, without even bothering to do theological reflection on it, to partially filter applicants according to the country they are from. Do nationals from their country have any history of causing social problems in the UK or similar countries? If no, I don't see the problem with granting them indefinite leave to remain. Under the current system, Barack Obama might find difficulty in getting permission to work in the UK long term. I don't see any reason whatsoever why that should be the case.

And nor am I saying that people with Pakistani nationality, for example, should all be kept out, just that if we're worried about terrorism, maybe we should stop putting so much effort keeping out people who aren't going to be a problem, start genuinely welcoming immigrants who need out help and spending all the extra time concentrating on discerning which of the people from potentially problematic countries will cause trouble, and keeping them out.

Proposal: give automatic leave to remain indefinitely to all citizens of stable friendly countries with sufficiently similar cultures, and welcome genuine refugees.

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